Michael Wert's new book considers the construction of memory around the "losers" of the Meiji Restoration, individuals and groups whose reputations suffered most in the late nineteenth-century transition from Tokugawa to imperial rule. Meiji Restoration Losers: Memory and Tokugawa Supporters in Modern Japan (Harvard University Asia Center, 2013) explores the work of memory activists at different moments of commemoration in the history of modern Japan.
Also, there is buried treasure.
Before the treasure, we are invited to a beheading. The execution of Oguri Tadamasa, one of the most important of the losers in Wert's book, sets the stage for a guided tour through the memory landscapes from which Oguri and others emerge as historical instruments and objects. Wert mobilizes an impressive range of diaries, local historical sources, newspapers, essays, works of manga, and short fiction from which a textually-mediated historical memory of controversial Restoration figures has been produced. In addition to this rich textual archive, Wert also brings us into a trans-historical collection of statues, graves, heads, magnifying glasses, and a single screw, all of which open up a material archive to supplement and extend the written. Historians of moving pictures will also find much of interest here, as the commemoration of Oguri and company takes shape in film and television in the latter part of the book.
In addition, as you will recall from above: there is buried treasure involved. I won't tell you how or when, but you'll find out if you listen to the interview.
Wert concludes with a helpful consideration of his the story continues into the twenty first century, turning finally to consider the ways that the practices and legacies of historical commemoration have shaped reactions to the 3.11 disaster in recent memory.
And if I haven't already made it clear: buried treasure.